Monday, August 11, 2008

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Washington-El v. Diguglielmo, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58304 (ED PA, July 31, 2008), a Pennsylvania federal district court denied defendants' motion to dismiss a claim by a prisoner who was a member of the Moorish American Moslem faith. Plaintiff asserted that he was refused the right to participate in Ramadan, to keep a copy of the Koran and to receive visits from clergy of his religion.

In Gooden v. Crain, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59857 (ED TX, Aug. 6, 2008), a Texas federal district court rejected a RLUIPA challenge by a Muslim prisoner to Texas prison grooming standards that prevented him from wearing a beard. The court held that while the policy imposes a substantial burden on plaintiff's exercise of religion, the state had shown a compelling interest for the restriction and that the policy is narrowly tailored in light of administrative and budgetary concerns.

Rhoades v. Alameida, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59349 (ED CA, Aug. 4, 2008), involved objections by a Native American prisoner that certain of his religious artifacts were destroyed by prison officials. The court said that there were disputed issues of fact that prevented granting the magistrate's recommended summary judgment for defendants on this claim. However the court dismissed plaintiff's equal protection claim, finding that the items he wanted to keep did not have the same religious significance as a Bible or Koran that were allowed to other inmates.

Palermo v. Wright, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60014 (D NH, July 24, 2008), a New Hampshire federal magistrate judge allowed a prisoner to move ahead with 1st Amendment and RLUIPA claims that he was denied the religious diet and ritual items required by his Wicca religion.